Let me ask you a question. What is your biggest need? What do you need more than anything else? I it good health or improved health? Is it to have love and friendship, to know that we are valued, that other people cherish us, not to be alone? Is it to be able to contribute to the needs of others, not to be just wrapped up in our own affairs, but to have something to offer to the wider world. What is your greatest need?
From time to time I put sermons I give up here. Not because I think they are particularly good, even less that they are model sermons. I can't even guarantee that I agree with everything I said then - I am (of course) learning all the time. But someone may be interested.
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Today, we’re going to talk about the problem of evil.
I don’t mean the philosophical problem of evil. There’s no shortage of questions about that. If God made the world good, where did the devil come from? Why does God let good things happen to bad people? What exactly is evil? Why does God not stamp out the badness in the world right away?
There are times in life when you become aware that there are forces beyond your control.
We all like to live in a bubble that says we can determine our own destinies. But then something goes badly wrong, an unexpected illness cuts across our plans, life bowls us a ball we’d never seen coming, and we start to realise we’re not in control.
How do you feel when it sinks in that you’re not in control?
Matthew tells a story about when this happened to Jesus’ disciples. They came face to face with the forces of nature, and they were not the ones in control.
Jesus would have made a terrible salesman.
At times, it almost seems as if he’s trying to put people off from following him.
Bible passages like this are hard to preach from. I’m instinctively a salesman. I’d love everyone to follow Jesus. I want to sell him to people. I want everyone I know to sign on the dotted line. So passages like this are a bit of a nuisance. Jesus takes the small print, and makes it the largest writing on the page, with bright highlighter pen through it. It makes it much harder to sell Jesus to people when it feels like you’re putting them off.
Many of us struggle with poor health. Some of us just have coughs and colds, scratches. Others have more serious things wrong.
Nationally, the NHS is at breaking point. We’re all living longer, and with that come more health problems. The system was never set up to handle the loads that doctors and other healthcare staff are facing.
What does the Bible have to say about our health? Unless the Bible addresses the real issues we face, Jesus is not a saviour worth following.
In Matthew chapter 8, we discover that Jesus came to heal.
He wasn’t the obvious person, and he knew it. The trouble was, he was also desperate.
The centurion was a powerful Roman soldier. Technically, he was supposed to command a hundred Roman troops. That alone was a prestigious position in the mighty Roman army. If one of his soldiers disobeyed him, they were disobeying the emperor. Truth be told, though, it wasn’t exactly a hundred. In this backwater of the empire, he could basically recruit his own men. He’d lost count of exactly how many were under his command.
“Do you trust me?”
That’s the question you find Jesus asking you as you read Matthew’s gospel.
The loyalty Jesus asks for is extraordinary. When he asks us to follow him, he asks us to give him everything.
Picture the scene.
It’s Christmas afternoon, and the family is sat in your front room. Someone was given a particularly nice box of chocolates, and they’re being passed around. You have your eye on the coffee creams. There are two in the box. To your dismay, you watch two other people each take one before the box can get to you. Dashed hopes. … And a piece of Turkish delight.
Most of us have too small a view of God’s fatherly love.
There are a number of reasons for that.
Some of us have had bad experiences of fathers; our memories are not all happy ones. So we take our own experience, and imagine that God is like fathers we knew. He domineers. He’s a tyrant. He looks out for himself but not for us. Or whatever it is.
Others of us had really good fathers. They loved us; we knew it; we respected and loved them. So we assume that God as father is like them. Like them, but no better than them.
It’s not hard to find institutions that seem all powerful. Nobody can stop them. They’re all over the world. The Mafia. Islamic State in Northern Iraq. The regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. In some parts of the world, the United States, even our own nation, can feel that way. Even in our own country, maybe the government, maybe your employer, seem unstoppable. They can do what they want.
This is nothing new. In Bible times, there were regimes that felt just like that. Institutions, nations, leaders, so powerful, nobody tells them what to do.